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2. beaten into dignity - larvatus prodeo
January 1st, 2005
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2. beaten into dignity
     PAUVRES. S’en occuper tient lieu de toutes les vertus.
RADICALISME. D’autant plus dangereux qu’il est latent.
RÉPUBLICAINS. Les républicains ne sont pas tous voleurs, mais les voleurs sont tous républicains.
— Gustave Flaubert, Le Dictionnaire des idées reçues
POOR. To concern oneself with them does the duty of all virtues.
RADICALISM. All the more dangerous when it is latent.
REPUBLICANS. Not all republicans are thieves, but all thieves are republicains.
— Gustave Flaubert, The Dictionary of Received Ideas[0]
It is July of 1865. Charles Baudelaire is forty-four years old. He is a self-proclaimed pederast, cannibalistic patricide, police spy, and proofreader of pornography. He is a voluntary exile from his native France. He constantly denounces the character of his countrymen, while equally detesting his philistine Belgian hosts. His hip and edgy public fails to take heed of his cautionary messages concerning the perils of intoxicants. The future beacons of symbolism, Mallarmé and Verlaine, already regard him as their literary master. During his brief passage through Paris, he deposes “an enormous bundle” of new manuscripts in the office of Gervais Charpentier, editor of the Revue nationale et étrangère. The texts have been long promised to the bookseller Julien Lemer. Charpentier has published several of their predecessors seven years earlier. He knows what to expect. Nevertheless, of the eleven eagerly anticipated prose poems contained therein, he chooses to publish but six. He rejects the rest as unsuitable for public consumption.[1] Among the texts so designated, a flagrant insult to the moral sensibilities of the progressive republicans and other moderate opponents and loyal supporters of the Saint-Simonian regime of the Second Empire, a jeering, brutal slogan:
Assommons les pauvres ! Let’s Pummel the Poor!
¶1     Pendant quinze jours je m’étais confiné dans ma chambre, et je m’étais entouré des livres à la mode dans ce temps-là (il y a seize ou dix-sept ans); je veux parler des livres où il est traité de l’art de rendre les peuples heureux, sages et riches, en vingt-quatre heures. J’avais donc digéré, — avalé, veux-je dire, — toutes les élucubrations de tous ces entrepreneurs de bonheur public, — de ceux qui conseillent à tous les pauvres de se faire esclaves, et de ceux qui leur persuadent qu’ils sont tous des rois détrônés. — On ne trouvera pas surprenant que je fusse alors dans un état d’esprit avoisinant le vertige ou la stupidité.     For a fortnight I had confined myself to my room, and had surrounded myself by books in fashion at that time (sixteen or seventeen years ago); I am speaking of books that describe the art of making the people happy, wise, and rich, in twenty-four hours. Thus I had digested, — I mean, swallowed, all the elucubrations of all these entrepreneurs of public good, — of those who counsel all poor to become slaves, and of those who persuade them that they all are dethroned kings. — No one will be surprised that I was then in a state bordering upon vertigo or stupidity.
¶2     Il m’avait semblé seulement que je sentais, confiné au fond de mon intellect, le germe obscur d’une idée supérieure à toutes les formules de bonne femme dont j’avais récemment parcouru le dictionnaire. Mais ce n’était que l’idée d’une idée, quelque chose d’infiniment vague.
    It appeared to me only that I felt, confined to the lower depths of my mind, an obscure germ of an idea superior to all these ladylike proposals of social reform whose dictionary I had recently traversed. But it was no more than the idea of an idea, something infinitely indistinct.
¶3     Et je sortis avec une grande soif. Car le goût passionné des mauvaises lectures engendre un besoin proportionnel du grand air et des rafraîchissants.     And I walked out, overcome by thirst. For the impassioned taste for trashy screeds engenders a proportional need of open air and refreshments.
¶4     Comme j’allais entrer dans un cabaret, un mendiant me tendit son chapeau, avec un de ces regards inoubliables qui culbuteraient les trônes, si l’esprit remuait la matière, et si l’œil d’un magnétiseur faisait mûrir les raisins.     As I was about to enter a tavern, a beggar held out his hat, with one of these unforgettable looks, which would overthrow thrones, if the spirit could move matter, and if the eye of a magnetizer could ripen grapes.
¶5     En même temps, j’entendis une voix qui chuchotait à mon oreille, une voix que je reconnus bien; c’était celle d’un bon Ange, ou d’un bon Démon, qui m’accompagne partout. Puisque Socrate avait son bon Démon, pourquoi n’aurai-je pas mon bon Ange, et pourquoi n’aurais-je pas l’honneur, comme Socrate, d’obtenir mon brevet de folie, signé du subtil Lélut et du bien-avisé Baillarger?     At once, I heard a voice whispering in my ear, a voice that I recognized unfailingly; it was the voice of a good Angel, or a good Demon, which accompanies me everywhere. Seeing that Socrates had his good Demon, why would I lack my good Angel, and why would I lack the honor of receiving, as did Socrates, my certificate of insanity, signed by the subtle Lélut and the well advised Baillarger?
¶6     Il existe cette différence entre le Démon de Socrate et le mien, que celui de Socrate ne se manifestait à lui que pour défendre, avertir, empêcher, et que le mien daigne conseiller, suggérer, persuader. Ce pauvre Socrate n’avait qu’un Démon prohibiteur; le mien est un grand affirmateur, le mien est un Démon d’action, un Démon de combat.     There exists this difference between the Demon of Socrates and mine, that the Demon of Socrates appeared to him only to avert, to warn, to forbid, whereas mine deigns to counsel, to suggest, to persuade. That poor Socrates had but a naysaying Demon; mine is a great affirmer, a Demon of action, a Demon of combat.
¶7     Or, sa voix me chuchotait ceci : « Celui-là seul est l’égal d’un autre, qui le prouve, et celui-là seul est digne de la liberté, qui sait la conquérir. »     And so he whispered to me: “Only he is the equal of another, who proves it, and only he is worthy of liberty, who can conquer it.”
¶8     Immédiatement, je sautai sur mon mendiant. D’un seul coup de poing, je lui bouchai un œil, qui devint, en une seconde, gros comme une balle. Je cassai un de mes ongles à lui briser deux dents, et comme je ne me sentais pas assez fort, étant né délicat et m’étant peu exercé à la boxe, pour assommer rapidement ce vieillard, je le saisis d’une main par le collet de son habit, de l’autre, je l’empoignai à la gorge, et je me mis à lui secouer vigoureusement la tête contre un mur. Je dois avouer que j’avais préalablement inspecté les environs d’un coup œil et que j’avais vérifié que dans cette banlieue déserte je me trouvais, pour un assez long temps, hors de la portée de tout agent de police.     Right away, I leapt upon my beggar. With a single punch, I busted his eye, which instantly puffed out like a ball. I broke a fingernail while knocking two teeth out of his mouth; and, not feeling sufficiently strong, having been born dainty and not being accustomed to boxing, to make short work of crushing this old man, I grabbed his collar with one hand, seizing his throat with another, and I bashed his head energetically against a wall. I must admit that I had previously made sure that in these desolate outskirts of town I found myself, for a long enough time, out of the reach of any policemen.
¶9     Ayant ensuite, par un coup de pied lancé dans le dos, assez énergique pour briser les omoplates, terrassé ce sexagénaire affaibli, je me saisis d’une grosse branche d’arbre qui traînait à terre, et je le battis avec l’énergie obstinée des cuisiniers qui veulent attendrir un steak.     Having then thrown this enfeebled sexagenarian to the ground by kicking him in the back hard enough to break the shoulder-blades, I picked up a stout tree branch that was laying on the ground, and I pounded him with the stubborn vigor of a cook tenderizing a beefsteak.
¶10     Tout à coup, — ô jouissance du philosophe qui vérifie l’excellence de sa théorie ! — je vis cette antique carcasse se retourner, se redresser avec une énergie que je n’aurais jamais soupçonnée dans une machine si singulièrement détraquée, et, avec un regard de haine qui me parut de bon augure, le malandrin décrépit se jeta sur moi, me pocha les deux yeux, me cassa quatre dents, et avec la même branche d’arbre me battit dru comme plâtre. — Par mon énergique médication, je lui avais donc rendu l’orgueil et la vie.     All of a sudden, — o miracle! o joy of the philosopher who verifies the excellence of his theory! — I saw this ancient carcass turn around, straighten himself with an energy that I would never have suspected in a machine so singularly shattered; and, with a look of hatred that appeared to me as a good omen, the decrepit bandit threw himself upon me, blacked both of my eyes, broke four of my teeth, and with the same tree branch beat me into pulp. — Thus with my strong medicine I had restored to him pride and life.
¶11     Alors, je lui fis force signes pour lui faire comprendre que je considérais la discussion comme finie, et me relevant avec la satisfaction d’un sophiste du Portique, je lui dis : « Monsieur, vous êtes mon égal ! veuillez me faire l’honneur de partager avec moi ma bourse; et souvenez-vous, si vous êtes réellement philanthrope, qu’il faut appliquer à tous vos confrères, quand ils vous demanderont l’aumône, la théorie que j’ai eu la douleur d’essayer sur votre dos. »     Then I made him many signs to make him understand that I considered the discussion finished, and rising up with the satisfaction of an Attic sophist, I said to him: “Sir, you are my equal! kindly grant me the honor of sharing my purse with me; and remember, if you are really a philanthropist, that you must apply to all your colleagues, when they ask you for alms, the theory that I had the anguish of trying out on your back.”
¶12     Il m’a bien juré qu’il avait compris ma théorie, et qu’il obéirait à mes conseils.     He swore to me that he had well understood my theory, and that he would obey my advice.[2]
    In keeping with its author’s contemporaneous concerns, Assommons les pauvres! reconsiders his revolutionary ideas of 1848. Once again, the message of the poem defies interpretation. Is the Faustian maxim of the poet’s demon meant in earnest, so as to impart to it a sense of self-destructive commitment to a lumpen-revolutionism, or is it being sent up with an ironic suggestion of the promise that the meek shall inherit the earth? Consider the final apostrophe, Qu’en dis-tu, Citoyen Proudhon? Addressed to the poet’s idol of 1848, it was omitted either by the author, in the aftermath of the death of the great anarchist, or by his editors and friends Asselineau and Banville, on the occasion of the poem’s first, posthumous publication. Is the poem a tribute to the great theoretician of anarchism, or a conscious and sophisticated effort to refute his theory of the salvation of the workers through mutualism?[3]
    With his post-Situationist critique, T.J. Clark suggests a plausible approach:[4]
‘Assommons les pauvres’, like the notes from Pauvre Belgique, is a statement of commitment. A commitment, self-destructive and despairing, to a revolution of and by the people, with the bourgeoisie as its enemy — the bourgeois ‘revolutionary’ as much as the middle-class supporter of order. A hymn to conflict, in which hatred is the best augur of equality, and branch and fist are the means to ‘pride and life’. It is not a wisdom that the Revue nationale, or many others of Baudelaire’s contemporaries, were likely to understand. But it measures up, in its sour and private fashion, to the realities of 1848; and if we look for a parallel, we must turn to the statements of Louis-Auguste Blanqui or the pages of Marx’s commentary on the times, ‘The Class Struggles in France’. Inappropriate bedfellows, you might think, for the poet and the dandy; but that is the way with revolutions.
The realities of 1848 saw Louis-Auguste Blanqui, condemned to death by the Orléanist regime in 1840, his sentence afterwards commuted to imprisonment for life, released by the February revolution. Blanqui immediately resumed his attacks on bourgeois institutions. The revolution changed nothing in its nature. His agitation for radical change earned him the sentence ten years’ imprisonment imposed by the moderate Republican government in 1849. In 1851, Blanqui responded from his prison cell to a request by his self-styled disciple Barthélémy for a toast for the February 25, 1851 banquet in London. The banquet was convened to celebrate the third anniversary of the 1848 revolution. Blanqui saw no cause for celebration. His withering attack on the Provisional Government was as unfit for publication, as the prose poem of Baudelaire.
    Blanqui denounced the deplorable popularity of bourgeois disguised as tribunes of the people. Their revolutionary speeches, sermons, and programs added to nothing but lies and deceit. He held in contempt the idiotic masses (la foule imbecile) caught in their nets. His prescription was simple and plain-spoken:[5]
    Traîtres seraient les gouvernements qui, élevés sur les pavois prolétaires, ne feraient pas opérer à l’instant même :     Those governments would be guilty of treason that, having been raised to power on the workers’ bulwark, did not at once realize:
    1° — Le désarmement des gardes bourgeoises.
    1. — The disarming of the bourgeois guards.
    2° — L’armement et l’organisation en milice nationale de tous les ouvriers.
    2. — The arming and military organization of all the workers.
    Sans doute, il est bien d’autres measures indispensables, mais elles sortiraient naturellement de ce premier acte qui est la garantie préalable, l’unique gage de sécurité pour le peuple.     No doubt there are many other indispensable measures, but they would naturally flow from this first act that is the preliminary guarantee, the sole guarantee of security for the people.
    Il ne doit pas rester un fusil aux mains de la bourgeoisie. Hors de là, point de salut.     Not a single gun must remain in the hands of the bourgeoisie. Without that there is no salvation.
    Les doctrines diverses qui se disputant aujourd’hui les sympathies des masses, pourront un jour réaliser leurs promesses d’amélioration et de bien-être, mais à la condition de ne pas abandonner la proie pour l’ombre.     The diverse doctrines that today contest for the sympathy of the masses may well one day realize their promises of improvements and well-being, but only on condition of refusing to abandon the prey for the shadow.
    Les armes et l’organisation, voilà l’élément décisif de progrès, le moyen sérieux d’en finir avec la misère.     Arms and organization, there are the decisive ingredients of progress, the only serious means of ending misery.
    Qui a du fer, a du pain.     He who has arms, has bread.
    On se prosterne devant les baïonnettes, on balaye les cohues désarmées. La France hérissée de travailleurs en armes, c’est l’avènement du socialisme.     Men grovel before bayonets; unarmed crowds are driven away. France bristling with workers in arms, that is the accession of socialism.
    En présence des prolétaires armés, obstacles, résistances, impossibilités, tout disparaîtra.     In the face of armed proletarians all obstacles, all resistance, all impossibilities will disappear.
    Mais, pour les prolétaires qui se laissent amuser par des promenades ridicules dans les rues, par des plantations d’arbres de la liberté, par des phrases sonores d’avocat, il y aura de l’eau bénite d’abord, des injures ensuite, enfin de la mitraille, de la misère toujours.     But proletarians who let themselves be amused by ridiculous strolls on the streets, by the planting of trees of liberty, by the sonorous sentences of lawyers, must expect holy water first of all, injuries to follow, a hail of bullets at last, and misery always.
    Que le peuple choisisse !     Let the people choose!
    Prison de Belle-Île-en-Mer, 10 fevrier 1851     Prison of Belle-Île-en-Mer, 10 February 1851
Strategic merits of Blanqui’s prescription notwithstanding, there remain the questions of equality and dignity, agenda postulated at the outset of Baudelairian thrashing, but tacitly glossed over in the litany of the future communard. The difference is that between the demonic and utopian varieties of social justice.
    On this occasion of confronting the demonic influence in the Le Spleen de Paris, the reference to the Socratic tradition is explicit. Its historical lineage is worthy of note. According to Walter Burkert, “Daimon is occult power, a force that drives man forward where no agent can be named. The individual feels as it were that the tide is with him, he acts with the daimon, syn daimoni, or else when everything turns against him, he stands against the daimon, pros daimona, especially when a god is favouring his adversary.” Moreover, “Whether he is happy or unhappy is not something which lies in a man’s control; the happy man is the one who has a good daimon, eudaimon, in contrast to the unhappy man, the kakodaimon, dysdaimon.”[6] On the other hand, the definitive statement of human autonomy harkens back to Heraclitus proclaiming that man’s ethos is his daimon, ἦθος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων, that is, that character is destiny. Plato echoes this precept, asserting that when your soul chooses a future life “a daimon will not select you, but you will choose a daimon.”[7]
    There the subject remained until the alienist Louis François Lélut published his book Du démon de Socrate in 1836. A second edition appeared twenty years later. Holding himself out as a historian, the author also sought to supersede moral inquiry through the holistic approach of his predecessors, materialistic physicians Barthez and Cabanis. No subject was better suited to this task than Socrates, whom Lélut identified as a theosophist, a visionary, and in no uncertain terms, a madman: “Socrate était un Théosophe, un visionnaire, et pour dire le mot, un fou.” The centerpiece of his case against Socrates was an analysis of his demon as an auditory hallucination. From his dispassionate physician’s standpoint, Lélut granted his ancient patient a standing exceptional in the annals of insanity. Socrates was an “ideal lunatic,” an exemplary clinical case. He displayed the best manifested and the most inveterate auditory hallucinations that a physician ever might have observed, “les hallucinations de l’ouïe les plus manifestes et les plus invétérées qu’ait jamais pu observer un médecin”.[8] The certitudes of the subtle Lélut and the well advised Jules-Gabriel-François Baillarger, who joined in the diagnostic of Socrates’ insanity, may grate the sensibilities of the present-day reader as much as it must have grated the sensibilities of Baudelaire. The philosophically inclined would point out that their patient is on record making the most definitive statement disconnecting his divine mania from common insanity.[9] Nonetheless, in our own time Walter Burkert fails to eschew such impolite diagnostics:[10]
Socrates was a pious man in every sense, according to the evidence of both Plato and Xenophon: he made sacrifice, he greeted the rising sun with a prayer, he advised Xenophon to consult the Delphic oracle, he accepted the word of Apollo that no one was wiser than Socrates in a way that determined the course of his life. What drove him into isolation was a unique experience which, from our point of view, verged on the pathological, a kind of voice which in the most various situations commanded him to halt, unexpectedly and compellingly. He said that ‘something daemonic’, daimonion, had happened to him; it was probably too mysterious even for himself for him to be able to call it divine. A normal civic life and political activity were thereby made impossible for him; and what was left was an existence of questioning dialogue within a circle of pupils who were fascinated by him.
Likewise the irony of Baudelaire, frequently felt and observed as a physical malady. As the case of Socrates contrasts with that of Descartes’ deliberate larvatus prodeo, the extent to which donning the ironic mask is subject to its wearer’s free choice remains uncertain.

    The violent message of the middle-aged bohemian calling for well-intentioned assault on the “undeserving poor” stands in contrast to the poetic persecution of the hard-working “bad glazier”. The disagreeable moral of raising class consciousness through topical drubbing is political, not aesthetic. Yet, as much of contemporaneous politics, it is rooted in poetry. The beginning of the fifth act of Goethe’s Faust II finds its hero on the brink of accomplishing the feat of technical progress meant as the work of his lifetime. But in his aims to reclaim land from the Ocean, Faust is frustrated by an old couple, Philemon and Baucis. As recounted by Ovid,[11] Philemon and Baucis were an old Phrygian couple who fed and sheltered Zeus and Hermes while they were wandering incognito through that land. The gods punished their compatriots for their want of hospitality, by flooding all of Phrygia, sparing only Philemon and Baucis, and rewarding them by changing their cottage into a temple, and themselves into its priests. As presumptive beneficiaries of Olympian gratitude, Goethe’s Philemon and Baucis dwell in a cottage and worship in a chapel atop of the high ground that Faust needs to execute his grand design. Faust fails to strike a bargain with the superannuated couple to vacate their sacred spot. Responding to Faust’s exasperated unconcern for justice, Mephistopheles sends his henchmen to evict the old votaries resisting his offers. But Philemon and Baucis die in the struggle and their house is burned to the ground. Four female phantoms then approach Faust, announcing themselves as Want, Debt, Care, and Need. Faust’s riches protect him from importuning Want, Debt, and Need, but Care slips in through the keyhole. Her departing sisters proclaim the approach of Death, their brother. Faust loses his sight, as Care (Sorge) blinds him to punish his arrogance. Mephistopheles mocks the blinded Faust by leading him to believe that his grotesque Lemur workmen are completing his life’s work, while they are actually digging his grave. Persevering in his hubris, he proclaims his wish to dwell in the moment, which causes his obligation to render his soul to Mephistopheles to come due. In his dying monologue, Faust calls for free humanity jointly creating universal welfare in a free society, hitting on a high note in his conclusion:[12]
Ja! diesem Sinne bin ich ganz ergeben,
das ist der Weisheit letzter Schluß:
Nur der verdient sich Freiheit wie das Leben,
der täglich sie erobern muß.
This is the highest wisdom that I own,
The best that mankind ever knew:
Freedom and life are earned by those alone
Who conquer them each day anew.
Oui, je m’abandonne à la foi de cette parole, qui est la dernière fin de la sagesse. Celui-là seul est digne de la liberté comme de la vie, qui, tous les jours, se dévoue à les conquérir, et y emploie, sans se soucier du danger, d’abord son ardeur d’enfance, puis sa sagesse d’homme et de vieillard.
And so Goethe’s Faust expires, persuaded that he has attained his moment of timeless glory through performing a great humanitarian service, remaining unaware that his land reclamation work is causing promiscuous death and destruction. But once it has been stripped of its tragic context, the Faustian maxim of the poet’s protreptic demon becomes infinitely malleable, lending itself as the populist motto for the National Socialism of Alfred Rosenberg, the Marxism of Ernst Thälmann, and the dissident humanism of Andrei Sakharov.
    The Faustian slogan of Assommons les pauvres ! is also glossed with a veneer of practical reason putting it further at odds with the spirit of progressive republican opposition officially licensed to thrive in the progressive Second Empire of Napoléon III. This painstakingly contrived affront to public morality accounts for the poem being deemed unpublishable by the Revue nationale et étrangère in 1865. This rejection reflects its counterpart of the author’s voluntary self-exile in Belgium. On the 30th of August of the preceding year, Baudelaire wrote to his friend, the radical journalist and pioneer of photographic portraiture, Félix Nadar:[13]
Croiras-tu que moi, j’aie pu battre un Belge ? C’est incroyable n’est-ce pas ? Que je puisse battre quelqu’un, c’est absurde. Et ce, qu’il y avait de plus monstrueux encore, c’est que j’étais complètement dans mon tort. Aussi, l’esprit de justice reprenant le dessus, j’ai couru après l’homme pour lui faire des excuses. Mais je n’ai pas pu le retrouver. Would you believe that I could beat a Belgian? Unbelievable, isn’t it? That I could beat someone is absurd. And all the more horrific is that I was entirely in the wrong. Therefore, the spirit of justice regaining the upper hand, I ran after the man to apologize. But I was unable to find him.
As a confession to a close friend, this anecdotal account bears little resemblance to the spurious self-accusations engendering the familiar legends of le poète maudit. But in its quality of self-incriminating manifesto, the poem reflects and amplifies the technique of these throwaway jests, raising their casually shocking implications to the level of a carefully calculated, expertly executed subterfuge. One difference stands out. This time around, the narrator metes out his offense equally, to the stolid supporters of law and order, and their utopian anarchist opponents. The motives for this two-pronged attack emerge in correspondence. Thus four months after the incident, on the 2nd of January, 1866, the poet writes to his mentor, the literary critic Sainte-Beuve:[14]
    Que ne donnerais-je pas pour aller en cinq minutes rue du Mont-Parnasse, pour causer une heure avec vous de vos articles sur Proudhon ; avec vous qui savez écouter même les gens plus jeunes que vous ?     What wouldn’t I give for reaching within five minutes the Street of Mont-Parnasse, to talk with you for an hour about your articles on Proudhon; with you, who knows to listen even to men younger than yourself?
    Ce n’est pas, croyez-le bien, que je trouve la réaction, en sa faveur. Je l’ai beaucoup lu, et un peu connu. La plume à la main, c’était un bon bougre ; mais il n’a pas été et n’eût jamais été, même sur le papier, un Dandy ! C’est ce que je ne lui pardonnerai jamais. Et c’est ce que j’exprimerai, dussé-je exciter la mauvaise humeur de toutes les grosses bêtes, bien pensantes, de L’Univers.     Not that I find unwarranted the reaction in his favor. I read him a lot, and knew him a little. Pen in hand, he was a fine fellow; but he never was, and never would have been, even on paper, a Dandy! That is what I will never forgive him. And that is what I will express, even if I should arouse bad temper of all the right thinking fools in the Universe.
    De votre travail, je ne vous dis rien. Vous avez, plus que jamais, l’air d’un confesseur et d’un accoucheur d’âmes. On disait, je crois, la même chose de Socrate ; mais les sieurs Baillarger et Lélut ont déclaré, sur leur conscience, qu’il était Fou.     Of your work, I say nothing. You have, more than ever, the manner of a confessor and a midwife to our souls. The same thing, I believe, was said of Socrates; but Messrs. Baillarger and Lélut have declared, upon their conscience, that he was Insane.
    Seventeen days later, on January 19, the famous anarchist dies in Paris. Between this time and the posthumous publication of the poem, its final phrase disappears. For the manuscript ends with the words: “Qu’en dis-tu, Citoyen Proudhon?” The published version omits the apostrophe altogether; it is not clear whether the decision to do so was due to a the author’s change of mind after the death of his former idol, or to the intervention of his editors Asselineau and Banville. Nevertheless, the elision of the sarcastic question neither blunts nor diffuses the force of the poem’s argument, and serves only to expand the scope of its ridicule to all proponents of progressive political gradualism.

    Writing to his friend and publisher Auguste Poulet-Malassis at the end of August, 1860, Baudelaire spells out his most comprehensive rebuttal to the notion of gradual political progress:[15]
    Je m’attendais à votre hypothèse finale à propos de la philosophie de l’histoire. — Je connais votre esprit comme s’il était mon fils. Je crois que c’est en vous un vieux reste des philosophies de 1848. D’abord, ne saisisses-vous pas, par l’imagination, que quelles que soient les transformations des races humaines, quelque rapide que soit la destruction, la necessité de l’antagonisme doit subsister, et que les rapports, avec des couleurs ou des formes différentes, restent les mêmes ?     I await your final hypothesis concerning the philosophy of history. — I know your mind as if it were my child. I believe that that it contains stale leftovers from the philosophies of 1848. First of all, are you failing to grasp, through your imagination, that no matter what changes take place in the human races, no matter how quickly proceeds the destruction, the need for antagonism must remain, and the connections, to different colors and forms, remain the same?
    C’est, si vous consentez à accepter cette formule, l’harmonie eternelle par la lutte éternelle.     It is, if you agree to accept this slogan, universal harmony through universal struggle.
    Ensuite, je crois (à cause de l’unité absolue dans la cause créatrice) qu’il faudrait consulter sur votre hypothèse un philosophe naturaliste, comme mon cousin, par exemple; vous figurez-vous qu’une race quelconque d’animaux puisse absorber les autres races ? Et même dans votre idée d’absorption de tous les peuples par un seul, ne voyez-vous pas que l’homme, animal suprême, devrait même absorber tous les animaux ? — Enfin, s’il est vrai que beaucoup de races (d’animaux) ont disparu, il est vrai aussi que d’autres sont nées, destinées à manger leurs voisines ou à être mangées par elles ; — et il est vrai aussi que si des races d’hommes (en Amérique par exemple) ont disparu, d’autres races d’hommes sont nées, destinées à continuer la lutte et l’antagonisme, suivant une loi éternelle de nombres et de forces proportionnels. Vous connaissez le mot de saint Augustin adopté maintenant par les docteurs de la création spontanée des animalcules : Dieu crée à chaque seconde de la durée. Il en faut conclure que la lutte continue à chaque seconde de la durée.     Further, I believe (in virtue of the absolute unity in the creative cause) that a natural philosopher such as for example my cousin, should be consulted about your hypothesis. Do you believe that any given breed of animals could absorb other breeds? And even in your idea of absorption of all the people into one, do you not see that man, the supreme animal, would have to absorb all animals? — Finally, if it is true that many breeds (of animals) have died out, it is also true that many others have emerged, destined to eat their neighbors, or be eaten by them. — and it is true also that if many human races have died out (for example, in America), other human races have emerged, destined to continue the struggle, and the antagonism, following the eternal law of proportional numbers and forces. You know the words of saint Augustine adopted today by the advocates of spontaneous generation of animalcules: God creates each second of all time. It follows that the struggle continues through each second of all time.
    Vous me contraignez ainsi à faire le philosophe et à me jeter dans des questions que je n’ai pas étudiées.     Thus you force me to play philosopher and apply myself to questions that I have not studied.
As Baudelaire cites Augustine’s evocation of occasionalism, he veers off in a radical direction. Occasionalism is a unipotent doctrine that reserves all causal power to God, who is said to exercise it on each occasional occurrence of the putative cause. In his variation on this theme, Baudelaire replaces the singular prime mover with an amorphous multitude of anonymous antagonists. Will the eternal harmony of the political order, the chimaeric obsession of two millenia of kindly dreamers, come to pass in a manner that would appeal to the most malicious schemers? Will mankind redeem itself by constructing a perpetual political edifice on the foundation of constant brutality? Will men finally usurp and fragment in a perfectly egalitarian fashion, the terrible power of divine causation?


[16]

[17]

[18]

[19]

[20]

[21]

[22]

[23]

[24]

[25]

[26]

[27]


Footnotes:

[0] See Flaubert 1951 I, 1020–1021.

[1] See Microhistory and biography.

[2] OC I xxx. All translations are by MZ, unless noted otherwise.

[3] See Burton.

[4] See T.J. Clark, The Absolute Bourgeois: Artists and Politics in France 1848-1857, London: Thames and Hudson, 1982, p. 177.

[5] Cite Blanqui.

[6] See Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, pp. 180, 181.

[7] See G.S. Kirk, J.S. Raven and M. Schofield, The Presocratic Philosophers, Second Edition, Cambridge, 1983, fragment 119, pp. 210-211; Plato, Republic X, at 617e and 620e.

[8] See Florence Vatan, The “Poet-Philosopher” and the “Physician-Philosopher”: A Reading of Baudelaire’s Prose Poem “Assommons les pauvres!”, Nineteenth-Century French Studies 33, Nos. 1 & 2 Fall–Winter 2004-2005, pp. 89-106.

[9] See the Phaedrus at 265b.

[10] See Walter Burkert, Greek Religion, Harvard University Press, p. 317.

[11] See Ovid’s Metamorphoses 8.611-724. As regards the prose poem, their story had contemporaneous currency owing to the eponymous 1860 opera by Charles Gounod.

[12] See Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust, Der Tragödie zweiter Teil; Goethe’s Faust, Translated by Walter Kaufmann, Anchor, 1962, pp. 468-9; Faust et le second Faust de Goethe, suivis d’un choix de ballades et poésies de Goëthe, Schiller, Burger, Klopstock, traduits par Gérard de Nerval, précédés d’une notice par Théophile Gautier, Paris, Michel-Lévy frères, 1868, p. 260.

[13] See C II 401.

[14] See C II 562-563.

[15] See C II 86–87.

[16]

[17]

[18]

[19]

[20]

[21]

[22]

[23]

[24]

[25]

[26]

[27]

Here ends the second chapter of the second part of the book previously entitled Representation and Modernity, begun in 1986 and submitted by the author and accepted by Hilary Putnam and William Mills Todd III, in partial satisfaction of 1993 degree requirements at Harvard University. Some of the subsequent chapters have been posted elsewhere in this journal. Comments, questions, suggestions, and requests shall be gratefully considered and promptly answered.

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From:xeus_top_88
Date:August 21st, 2008 11:53 am (UTC)
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Ваш пост написан настолько интересно, что вы попали в Топ-30 Зиуса самых обсуждаемых тем в Живом Журнале.
Это очень положительное явление. Пожалуйста, продолжайте в том же духе. © Зиус
From:stephenmarvin
Date:March 24th, 2010 08:44 am (UTC)

thank you

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thanks again !!!
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From:larvatus
Date:April 28th, 2010 12:24 am (UTC)

Re: thank you

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My pleasure. Thanks for reading.
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